I first became aware of Kevin Keller’s music through mere chance. Driving home from a family vacation at the beach, we were all tired (and sunburned!) and I turned to the “Chill” channel on the satellite radio. The miles went by as generic ambient music filled the car.
Then a track began playing that made me perk up my ears and listen closer. It wasn’t aimless synthesizer noodling; no, this was music with some depth, melody, and real beauty. Hitting the info button on the radio, I noted that the song was “Distanced”, by Kevin Keller. I made a mental note to investigate further when we got home.
I did, and I spent quite a bit of time enjoying the generous offerings on his Soundcloud site. Before I was done, I had purchased Pendulum (the album containing “Distanced”), Nocturnes, The Day I Met Myself, and In Absentia. Each one is unique, but they all feature Keller’s distinctive voice as a composer. His music has been labeled neoclassical, but it transcends categorization. In his official bio, he states that he was first a progressive rock guitarist before he moved to the piano, and you can hear that background in his music.
Keller is about to release a new album, La Strada, which has been crowdfunded, and it is an exceptionally fine work. It was recorded with the Salome Chamber Orchestra, with guest musician David Helpling lending his guitar talent to the title track, and vocalist Marta Karamuz contributing to the final song, “New Beginnings”.
La Strada is divided into two “sides” (are there plans for a vinyl release?), and the first one opens with “At the Start”, which is just that: a brief piano piece with understated string accompaniment that sets the mood for the rest of the album. It segues immediately into “Tunnel of Light”, which is a fascinating dialogue between Keller’s piano and the orchestra throughout, while some electronic rhythms percolate underneath. “Moments Lost In Time” begins with a delicate and somber theme on piano, but it soon morphs into an interesting mix of processed vocals, strings, and driving beats before closing with solo piano. “La Strada” features one of Keller’s most gorgeous melodies. If Rachmaninoff were alive and had access to today’s technology, he might come up with a tune as beautiful as “La Strada”. It features Keller’s piano with Eno-esque sonics that serve the melody perfectly. Side One closes with “Lightning Road”, which is another driving mix of electronic beats, piano, and strings. This song features some of Keller’s most playful and energetic keyboard work.
Side Two begins with what I consider the best track of the album, and one of Keller’s finest productions – the 9 minute, 18 second-long “Beyond The Infinite”. It begins with a rapid ostinato on piano. Layers and layers of sound are added (did Keller multitrack the piano?) as electronic percussion darts in and out from all sides. Deep, wordless vocals combine with ambient synths to provide a bed of sound that Keller uses to build controlled tension on the piano. A snatch of a spoken phrase floats by; I barely catch “The origin and purpose is to build a total…” before the disembodied voice breaks up. As piano, strings, and electronics repeat an ascending phrase, the sense of enormous energy building up is almost overwhelming. Gradually, though, the layers of sound are dropped until only piano and ghostly synths bring the track to an end.
After the sonic explosion of “Beyond The Infinite”, we definitely need some catharsis, and “All Of This Ends” provides exactly that. A stately and elegiac track featuring only strings and piano, this is the perfect response to the previous track, bringing things to a satisfying conclusion. But there is still one more song to enjoy, the beautiful “New Beginnings”. Featuring the lovely vocals of Marta Karamuz, it has hints of Philip Glass, Bach (via some pipe organ-sounding synths), and Roger Eno (not Brian). By the time it’s over, you feel as if you’ve been in a lovely dream, but it’s time to return to reality.
Since the early ‘80s, I have enjoyed the music of many gifted composers of contemporary instrumental music. While the majority of so-called “New Age” music is absolute dreck, some artists who were unjustly thrown into that genre have risen above it: Patrick O’Hearn, Harold Budd, Mark Isham, Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Robin Guthrie, and Steve Roach have all composed and produced music that will stand the test of time. Kevin Keller is also one of those special artists. He is not afraid to make music that is beautiful for beauty’s sake, and he has a deft sense of how modern electronics can enhance, not overwhelm, his compositions. He is one of the most talented composers working in music today, and he deserves the widest possible audience.
For readers of Progarchy, fans of Lunatic Soul will find a lot to love in Keller’s music. You can access it at bandcamp, itunes, and amazon. Details are at http://www.kevinkeller.com/.